Stan Musial, who this year enters baseball's Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, leaned against the batting cage last week and looked out at the lowered mound. "It must help the hitters," he said. "When a man is standing at the plate against a sidearm pitcher he has no trouble picking up the flight of the ball. He should be able to see all the ball. An overhand pitcher firing down off a high mound is another matter. Heck, some of the mounds were built up so high in the past it was ridiculous. Some of them were up over 25 inches. If the new rule is enforced, then the batter will be hitting at a ball which is coming at him at a better angle to hit. The pitchers know this, because I have talked to some of them and they feel that the plate is farther away than it has been in the past."
Don McMahon of the Detroit Tigers has already noticed the difference this spring. "Look at the number of walks that are being given up," he said. "In some games there have been as many as 13 or 14. Many pitchers are high and wide. You really have to force yourself on the mound to get the ball down. During the season a pitcher who has to start forcing himself in the early innings is going to be awful tired in the late ones."
Washington's Camilo Pascual, a grand old warrior, has also noticed the difference this year, although he has pitched very well in two outings. "I'm having trouble forcing my arm and body down into the ball," he says. "It isn't a matter of getting stuff on the ball so much as getting oomph. I might go to the side-arm fastball more than in the past."
Probably the best assessments of the situation came from Pitching Coaches Billy Muffett of the Cardinals and Johnny Sain of the Tigers. "It is going to take a lot of work," said Muffett, "for some people to get used to this new mound. What happens if the hitters have great years and the pitchers bad ones? Will there then be another change?" Sain says, "The man who is well organized out on the mound will still be able to pitch well. A man who is not well organized will be in trouble."
Last week Pitcher Jim Hannan of the Senators revealed yet another facet of this strange spring training. "In 1968," he said, "the balls were softer than they had been before. Ken McMullen [ Washington's third baseman] used to sit on the bench and squeeze the horsehide up into a lump on the outside of the ball. Nine of every 10 balls I picked up seemed to be soft. Heck, one day an umpire pushed on a ball and the horsehide came up so that he could hold it between his fingers like a pendant on a chain. This year the balls feel much, much harder." And that, of course, is all the pitchers need to hear.